Some people are so addicted to their phones, they even keep them on the nightstand while they sleep — never more than a moment away.
Well, I’m an addict, too, but it’s not my smartphone’s comforting glow I reach for in the middle of the night. It’s my e-cigarette. I don’t wake up just to take a couple of quick puffs, but it is the last thing I do in the evening, and my wake-up call each morning after brushing my teeth. If I need to use the bathroom in the night, I grab it — telling myself I’m just using its illuminated tip as a torch, so I don’t have to turn the light on and disturb my light-sleeping husband, Sten.
But the truth is I jump at any opportunity to inhale the sweet kick of nicotine. During the day, my e-cig is either in my hand, a pocket or tucked into my bra, and because it’s always there I constantly find myself unconsciously sucking it; sneaking undercover drags on planes, trains and automobiles; vaping in the cinema or as I wander around shops.
Susannah Constantine (pictured) who is hopelessly addicted to e-cigarettes, explores the dangers of vaping
Other triggers are writing, driving, talking on the phone and after meals.
My kids used to tell me off, but now they’re so used to it they don’t even notice when I, for example, catch a quick one before going into a parent-teacher meeting, as I did the other day when I went to see my 16-year-old daughter Cece’s French tutor.
I didn’t get caught out because I was careful to fully exhale before entering her study, and the vapour is completely odourless. She did see it in my hand, but instead of the shock she would have shown if I’d been holding a real ciggie, she asked: ‘Are those any good? My father still smokes 20 a day.’
I use my e-cig far more than I ever smoked cigarettes, because it is deemed more acceptable. When regular smokers come for supper at our home (they are few and far between these days), they politely step outside to smoke. Vapers, however, merrily billow away at the kitchen table, myself included.
My two eldest children, Joe, 21, and Esme, 18, like most of their friends, are occasional social vapers. At first, I was dismayed — but then I decided to tolerate it on the grounds that there are bigger things to ward off, like drugs and binge-drinking.
That’s why I get away with it — my vaping habit is seen, by and large, as benign.
It started with a few experts sounding worried about the possible effects of frequently inhaling any sort of vapour into the lungs. Then strange stories emerged from the U.S. of people suffering respiratory failure, infections and long-term lung disease after using e-cigarettes, especially those with flavoured oils and cannabis — luckily, the latter is not something I’d ever try.
Vaping was once viewed as a sensitive alternative to smoking cigarettes, Susannah (pictured) hasn’t experienced any side-effects from the habit
In America, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 2,172 cases of lung injury linked to vaping have been reported, while 42 deaths have been confirmed across 24 states (as of November 13).
And supermarket giant Walmart last month announced it would stop selling e-cigarettes altogether. (It will continue to sell actual cigarettes, not to mention rifles and shotguns.)
Three U.S. states, meanwhile, are suing the country’s largest e-cigarette maker for allegedly trying to get children hooked. And on Tuesday, the American Medical Association dramatically changed its official stance and called for an immediate ban on the sales of all vaping devices.
Surely there’s some mistake, I told myself. After all, I’ve never had a single side-effect, and no longer suffer the coughs and fatigue that plague smokers.
I keep one tucked in my bra for sneaky puffs in the car, planes… even at parents’ meetings. My kids have given up telling me off
But it’s hard to ignore photographs of victims lying in hospital beds — I couldn’t help thinking of my own children when I read the words of 19-year-old Ewan Fisher from Nottingham, who this month told how he nearly died of lung failure just five months after taking up vaping.
Doctors said he had a ‘catastrophic respiratory illness’ called hypersensitivity pneumonitis, triggered by an allergic reaction. Last month, the widow of 57-year-old Terry Miller, from Jarrow in Tyne and Wear, said he’d died from pneumonia linked to oil in his e-cigarettes.
Suddenly, vaping has gone from a ‘healthy’ substitute for smoking to a public health menace. This month, an international team of cardiologists called for a ban as they warned we’re creating a generation of nicotine addicts who believe their habit is harmless.
In fact, they claimed, research shows the devices can damage the brain, heart, blood vessels and lungs.
The problem is, I am now hopelessly addicted.
Susannah (pictured with death cigarettes) who begun smoking cigarettes at age 15, has been vaping for six years
Six years ago, you see, I decided to drink my last drink and smoke my final fag. I didn’t smoke so much, maybe five a day, although when I drank it was easy to inhale ten of the blasted things.
Each vice encouraged the other, the Siamese twins of an unhealthy lifestyle.
Smoking my first cigarette at 15 felt impossibly cool and tasted disgusting. It took place at the bus stop near school, and caused enough coughing to put smoking on hold until my 18th birthday, when a girlfriend gave me a pack of 20 Consulates as a present.
From that moment, I was hooked. For decades, I didn’t feel guilty or even consider the negative health implications, especially as my dad smoked 20 a day and was fit and strong.
I told myself, what about all those old stalwarts who you see living off fags and whisky well into their 90s?
And, I confess, I thought I was cool and rebellious, doing something just a little bit forbidden.
One early atttempt to quit was more out of curiosity than anything else — I went for a one-to-one session with world-renowned hypnotist Allen Carr in 1986. He made me chain-smoke for six hours then ‘hypnotised’ me. Something must have happened because I was conscious throughout, but remember nothing.
That night, £200 the poorer for the hypnosis, I went to a party and my boyfriend proposed. I turned him down — I was 25, too young and too scared to make that commitment. As I wondered whether I had made the worst mistake of my life, I climbed out of a window and reached for a cigarette. I’d lasted less time than the treatment took.
Susannah (pictured) admits her first vape from County Mall shopping centre in Crawley was love at first puff
But, by my 50s, I could no longer lie to myself about the harm caused by smoking. My skin looked like it had a coating of dusty cement. I couldn’t run with ease because my lungs burned and I began to notice how bad my hair, breath and clothes smelled. I was rapidly turning to ash.
Sten didn’t mind — he smoked once a year on our summer holiday to Greece and he was even, long ago in the Nineties, the co-founder of an ironic tobacco brand called Death Cigarettes (slogans included ‘like the grim reaper but cheaper’, and traditional cigarette companies were outraged). But my kids hated it.
So the rise of vaping — then universally presented as a safe, sensible alternative to smoking that would help addicts like me to quit — came at just the right time.
It felt like nothing short of a miraculous solution.
My first vape, bought at County Mall shopping centre in Crawley, West Sussex, in 2013, gave me a kick at the back of my throat, like a real cigarette. It was love at first puff and I transitioned straight from Marlboro Lights to e-cigs without regret or cravings.
The American Tobacco flavour was instantly pleasurable, didn’t smell and could be smoked without shame or embarrassment.
For six years, I have happily puffed away at my vape, believing it was one vice that couldn’t do much harm. It’s cheaper than buying cigarettes, but if you incessantly suck away, like I do, still costly. One estimate puts the annual cost of smoking ten at day at £1,800, and the cost of vaping for a year at around £300, including the e-cig and all the accessories you need.
I’ve never done the maths, but I buy my filters online at £8 for five, and each filter lasts half a day.
While I’ve never kidded myself for a moment that it looks cool, it was a no-brainer to trade looking momentarily chic for lifelong better health and glowing skin.
Dr Nick Hopkinson of Imperial College told Susannah (pictured) that the level of harm vaping has on the lungs is probably no more than about five per cent of smoking
I look forward to it after meals, am convinced it sharpens my concentration and admit it’s as much an emotional crutch as it is a physical dependency.
But no love story lasts for ever. And I’ve decided I can no longer live in denial, so to work out the truth I spoke to Dr Nick Hopkinson, a reader in respiratory medicine at Imperial College and chair of the campaign group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH).
‘My advice to any smoker wanting to quit would always be to try medicinal nicotine replacement products and get support via counselling, because those methods are known to be effective and safe,’ he says.
‘But some people prefer vaping because it’s more easily accessible or they’ve tried everything else.
The doctor tells me vaping for five, ten or 15 years is going to cause lung damage
‘Vaping is not completely safe, but the level of harm to the lungs is probably no more than about five per cent that of smoking.
‘Obviously, the best thing your lungs can breathe in is clean air. But if the choice is between vaping and smoking, vaping is the best option.’
That makes sense to me. If I stopped vaping, there is a good chance I’d soon be back to smoking — and no doubt ten times more than I used to, thanks to my intensive vaping habit.
Of the 3.6 million vapers in the UK, 54 per cent are former smokers, while 40 per cent do a bit of both. Six per cent have never smoked. But we’re not in the clear just because we’re vaping to escape a worse habit.
‘Laboratory work suggests e-cig vapour could irritate the cells in the lungs,’ continues Dr Hopkinson. ‘There’s no doubt that vaping for five, ten or 15 years is going to cause some lung damage in the long term such as inflammation or scarring.
‘For example, long-term vaping may increase the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), though to much less extent than cigarettes.’
Susannah (pictured with Charles Saatchi) revealed her desire for smoking tobacco has gone since she begun vaping
And what does Dr Hopkinson think of the U.S. horror stories about vaping? Secretly, I’m very much hoping he’ll dismiss them as a moral panic or political hype. No such luck.
‘The outbreak of acute lung disease in the U.S. is something we ought to be taking very seriously,’ he says. ‘There’s evidence that at least 80 per cent of cases have been in people who have been vaping cannabis oil, and there may be other specific chemicals involved.
‘Lungs are not designed to inhale oil, the cells in the lungs take up the oil and that also causes scarring and inflammation.
‘The fact we have much tighter regulation in the UK means that thankfully, the likely culprit, a chemical called vitamin E acetate, isn’t present. This is probably why we haven’t seen the same problems here.’
But he warns that growing use in the UK means we could see such cases in those using vapes to illicitly consume cannabis.
I have vaped for a long time now with no apparent side-effects —except that my desire to smoke tobacco has completely gone. In fact, I much prefer my e-cig to a Marlboro Light, which now smells utterly repellent to me. That in itself is a marvel given how I used to crave them.
Susannah (pictured) revealed once she gives up vaping, she’ll still have an unhealthy love of chocolate and enjoy snacking in bed
So I can’t help feeling betrayed by the news that even this last little pleasure is no longer harmless. After all, I’ve already given up so many things I love in the name of staying healthy.
I exercise regularly, use natural products on my face, eat healthily, and drink loads of water and herbal tea. I’ve stopped indulging my sweet tooth, which reached such epic proportions after I quit smoking that my family would find wrappers virtually everywhere — stuffed down the sofa, scattered about the car, in coat pockets.
Butter is another thing I have had to moderate. Gone are the days when I would dollop half a pound in my baked potato. It’s now a drizzle of olive oil and some saintly cottage cheese.
Sadly, it seems vaping must now be next on the list of endless compromises.
‘If you’ve managed to quit smoking by switching to vaping, it’s best to try to quit that, too, in the long term,’ Dr Hopkinson advises. ‘But not at the expense of going back to smoking, which is much more dangerous. And if you don’t smoke, stay away from vaping.’
There you have it. Of course, I am cross with myself for being so reliant on a bit of plastic and I keep telling myself that one day I will give up. One day, one month, one year, I will, I will stop.
And when I finally manage it, the only vice I’ll have left is an unhealthy love of chocolate — oh, and eating snacks in bed. There is nothing more delightfully decadent than munching through a packet of Twiglets and reading late into the night.
Funnily enough, this habit irritates my children far more than my vaping, even though it doesn’t affect them at all.
Tough luck kids, that’s one last, little pleasure I’m determined to keep.